It’s not the sexiest topic, but being safe around barbells is extremely important if you want to have a long and healthy lifting career. Or simply not die. Like handling firearms, there are some basic rules for lifting barbells that will keep you safe. Follow these and you’ll be able to lift safely and productively for the rest of your life.
If you don’t have a spotter, squat inside the rack with safeties. The safeties should be positioned to catch the bar just below the point where you hit depth. You may want to film yourself hitting depth to determine where that point is on the rack. Make a mark on which hole you should to set the safeties in, and always put them there when squatting.
If you do use spotters, you need TWO spotters, one on each side of the barbell. One spotter is not sufficient to help you stand up from a failed rep, and will likely throw you off balance even further. Each spotter should be ready to catch the sleeve of the barbell in the crook of their elbow if the lifter fails the rep. Then they should carefully help the lifter stand back up and guide him or her back into the rack.
This part is critical — at NO POINT SHOULD YOU EVER “BAIL” OR DUMP THE BAR OFF YOUR BACK. This is extremely dangerous to the spotters, and will get you thrown out of competitions. Don’t do it inside a rack either, as you’ll likely tear up the knurling on the bar or even bend the bar. It’s a very bad habit, and once you start doing it it’s hard to stop when you encounter a difficult, grindy rep.
The Rules of Bench Press Safety
The bench press is the most dangerous lift to perform, because you have to briefly move the bar over your face and airway at the beginning and end of the set. Injuries are rare in the barbell world, but when they happen it’s usually because of the bench press. Bench press injuries can be fatal too, so pay careful attention to the following rules of bench safety.
- NEVER move a bar horizontally over your face with bent elbows. Lock out your elbows while the bar is still over the J hooks, then move the bar over your shoulder joint before beginning to press. The spotter can help you do this (called a “lift off”). Likewise, fully lock out your elbows before re-racking the bar. DO NOT attempt to “throw” the bar backward into the J hooks if you are struggling to compete a rep.
- Always bench with a spotter. A spotter should NEVER touch the bar unless the lifter has absolutely failed. The spotter is there to save your life if you fail a rep.
- The spotter should hold the bar with a mixed or alternating grip, with their hip close to the bar. This puts the spotter in the best position to handle the bar.
- If you don’t have a spotter, don’t bench press.
- If you HAVE to bench press and you don’t have a spotter, DO NOT collar the bar. In the event you fail a bench press, you can dump the plates toward the ground to relieve the bar, then put the empty bar back in the hooks.
- NEVER attempt to roll the bar down your body (sometimes known as the “roll of shame”) if you fail a rep. Even a moderately heavy load when rolled over soft tissue can damage internal organs and cause internal bleeding.
Press / Deadlift
The main safety issue during these lifts is the potential to pass out, due to the rapid changes in blood pressure that can occur. This is rare, but it does happen. In the deadlift, this usually occurs because the lifter sets the bar down too fast, or attempts to stand up too fast. The easy solution is to lower the bar a little more controlled, and let your air out slowly at the conclusion of the rep.
Passing out during the press usually occurs during lockout. In any case it usually comes on slowly enough for the lifter to set the bar back in the pins and recover himself before actually losing consciousness. This may be more of an issue with heavy press lockouts, where you are attempting to lockout more weight than you can actually press with a full range of motion. In this case, you should be pressing off the safety pins (also know as “pin presses”) and should you start to lose consciousness, simply put the bar back down on the pins. It doesn’t have far to fall.
Spotters are unnecessary for both of these lifts, and any attempt to spot them only increases the risk that both lifter and spotter get hurt.
Iron plates should always be placed on the bar facing inwards (so that the lip of the plate faces toward the center of the bar). The opposite is true for placing plates on the weight tree — plates should face out. This allows you to place your fingers around the lip of the plate and your thumbs on the smooth part of the plate, which offers a more secure grip. This also allows you to grab the plates off the weight tree more easily, and minimizes the chance a plate will slip off the edge of the tree, potentially hitting your foot.
Maintain your Bar
Make sure your bar is lubricated so that the sleeves can spin. Humidity can cause rust which causes the sleeves to lock up. If the sleeves don’t spin, the bar can spin out of your hand, which is especially dangerous on the bench press.
Keep the Platform Clean
Rack all weights once you’re done with them. Don’t leave them leaned up against the rack ora wall, or laying on the platform. They can be a trip hazard, especially when you have multiple people working on a platform.
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